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The Ultimate Guide to Repairing a Damaged Skin Barrier

By Ellie Child and Gabriella Buckner -

Skin barrier skincare, or skincare targeted towards strengthening one’s skin barrier, has become super popular in the last couple years.

But what exactly is a skin barrier and how can we repair it when it’s broken? How do we even know if and when it’s damaged? How does it happen in the first place?

To hop on one of the internet’s favourite skincare trends and to, of course, get better skin ourselves, we’ve delved deep into the internet to find the most Googled questions (and their answers) surrounding skin barrier health. And to make all your lives easier, we’ve compiled it all into the ultimate guide to repairing your skin barrier for a healthy, trouble-free complexion—plus some of our favourite products for getting the job done.

What is the skin barrier?

In simple terms, the skin barrier is the outer layer of the skin (also known as the epidermis). This barrier is actually made up of several layers that all serve their own function, but usually when damage occurs, it’s to the outer layer.

The main function of the skin barrier it to prevent dehydration, keeping moisture within the skin, and shielding it against breakages - think of it as your complexion's own security guard. This special barrier is actually made up of three subdivisions: the chemical barrier, the stratum corneum and the moisture barrier.

Sometimes knowing a little bit of the science-y stuff helps when choosing skincare, so to help you really understand how the skin barrier works, let’s run through each subdivision.

First up, the chemical barrier. This is the outer section of the skin barrier and is formed from a variety of friendly skin microbiome that require a slightly acidic pH to function well. A disrupted pH balance can often break this section, which is why finding microbiome-friendly skin care routine is imperative.

Next, the stratum corneum. Made up of dead skin cells, this layer plays the role of protecting the skin and can often be damaged by over-exfoliating.

The final section is the moisture barrier which yep, you guessed it, is responsible for preventing moisture loss. It’s made up of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol, and requires the correct maintenance to prevent any breakages.

What causes skin barrier damage?

Skin barrier damage can occur due to many external factors, as well as some internal. Some of the main factors include:

  • Excessive exfoliating and over-washing
  • Pollution
  • A poor skin care routine
  • Dry air
  • Ageing
  • Lack of sleep
  • Genetics

How to tell if your skin barrier is damaged

Skin barrier damage presents itself in a few different ways, one or two of which you might already know about if you've come to this blog!

  • Dry, scaly or rough skin
  • Itchiness
  • Discolouration/hyperpigmentation
  • Acne
  • Sensitive or inflamed areas
  • Flare-ups of rosacea and eczema
  • Delayed wound healing

How do you repair a damaged skin barrier?

1.Reduce how often you wash your face

We’re not saying you should completely cut out your skin washing routine, but sometimes, stripping it back to basics can really give your skin the time to heal. We recommend cutting back on regular face washing, and, when it does come to cleansing, try using all-natural products that boast a mixture of moisturising properties. Low pH cleansers are also recommended.

You may also want to try a double cleansing routine in the evenings, which involves using two gentler cleansers (the first oil-based) to effectively remove makeup and pollutants without being harsh on the skin.

Read up on our guide to double cleansing here.

REN Rosa Centifolia Cleansing Gel 150ml

REN Rosa Centifolia Cleansing Gel

£20.00 £26.00 (24% off)

When it comes to cleansing with a broken skin barrier, using soft and gentle remedies are key. This nourishing formula contains a mix of soothing ingredients that reduce oxidative damage whilst maintaining a healthy complexion. Its unique formula contains rose petals to assist with soothing the skin and cleansing away dirt without stripping away any moisture, helping your skin to thrive in a happy and healthy environment.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser 236ml

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

£7.49 £10.00 (26% off)

This low-pH cleanser is a sensitive skin saviour and one of the most sought after on the market. It gently cleanses while hydrating the skin, and it's also non-comedogenic and fragrance-free in order to be the safest possible for sensitive complexions.

Clarins Hydrating Gentle Foaming Cleanser 125ml

Clarins Hydrating Gentle Foaming Cleanser

£19.00 £24.00 (21% off)

Another super gentle yet effective option is this foaming cleanser fromClarins, which preserves your skin's microbiota with a soap- and SLS-free formula. The naturally lathering saponaria plant cleanses the skin instead, whilst squalane protects your skin, moringa detoxifies it and aloe vera keeps it soothed and moisturised.

2. Cut back on the exfoliators

We know, nothing leaves our skin feeling fresher and softer than a face scrub or chemical exfoliator. But, when the skin barrier is broken, it is so important to allow your complexion to heal. And while exfoliators are great for removing dead skin cells on healthy skin, they can exacerbate things when the barrier is already damaged.

Try stepping away from the scrubs for a couple of weeks (or until all signs of damage have cleared) before reintroducing a gentle chemical exfoliator (and be very careful if you decide to go with a face scrub, as people often use physical exfoliators way too vigorously).

Here are a few of our favourite exfoliators for when the time is right:

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 30ml

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA


This gentle serum delivers powerful results, stimulating cell renewal to tackle hyperpigmentation, acne scars and uneven texture to reveal youthful and radiant skin. Added Tasmanian pepperberry soothes inflammation to make the lactic acid more tolerated by sensitive or damaged skin.

The INKEY List PHA Toner

The INKEY List PHA Toner

£12.35 £12.99 (5% off)

PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) are a great choice of exfoliator for those with recently damaged skin, because it penetrates the skin more slowly than AHAs and BHAs, the more common exfoliating acids. This toner locks in moisture as it removes dead skin, and the addition of aloe keeps the skin calm.

ELEMIS Gentle Rose Exfoliator 50ml

ELEMIS Gentle Rose Exfoliator

£28.25 £38.00 (26% off)

Basically anything with the word 'gentle' in it, you're going to want to jump on!

This sensitive-skin safe exfoliator includes moisturising jojoba oil, antioxidant-rich cucumber extract and rose absolute, moisturising your skin as it polishes away dead skin and fights fine lines.

3. Moisturise

This stage is a given. If skin is visibly dry, cracked or broken, then you need to find a deeply nourishing hydrator ASAP. We recommend looking for moisturisers that have water-retaining ingredients in, such as allantoin, hyaluronic acid, glycerin and panthenol.

And to strengthen broken skin, try adding vitamin C-infused products into your routine. This special vitamin helps the skin’s cells to regenerate and is rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Clinique Moisture Surge 100h Auto-Replenishing Hydrator 50ml

Clinique Moisture Surge 100h Auto-Replenishing Hydrator

£29.50 £42.00 (30% off)

This powerful moisturiser is the perfect long-lasting solution for maintaining moisture and giving your skin barrier a chance to heal. It contains a cocktail of the key ingredients we mentioned previously, including hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and the brand’s very own Auto-Replenishing Technology that supports and maintains the skin's natural moisture levels.

CeraVe Moisturising Lotion 236ml

CeraVe Moisturising Lotion

£11.06 £11.50 (4% off)

This lotion is the ideal product for keeping your skin barrier protected and hydrated. Featuring hyaluronic acid and three naturally occurring ceramides, this lightweight and non-greasy formula locks in moisture for up to 24-hours. When it comes to supporting the skin's natural barrier, this lotion pulls out all of the stops to ensure a happy and healthy complexion

Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream 15ml

Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream

£11.70 £17.00 (32% off)

The allantoin in this day cream is known for its benefits for dry skin, penetrating deep into your skin to restore its moisture balance at a cellular level. Over time, it reduces the appearance of fine lines as it plumps up and firms your complexion. There's also antioxidants in the moisturiser to shield you from free radical damage, which includes wrinkles, blemishes and spots.

4. Catch those zzz’s

Getting a good night’s sleep can work wonders for you skin as it allows your body to heal and regenerate properly. Treat yourself to a pamper evening before spritzing your bed with a relaxing pillow spray and settle in for the night.

Shop our favourite sleep aidproducts below:

OLVERUM Restful Sleep Pillow Mist 50ml

OLVERUM Restful Sleep Pillow Mist


Infuse your pillows and blankets with bergamot and lavender essential oils for a relaxing, deeper sleep and wake up feeling and looking refreshed.

This Works Deep Sleep Bath Soak

This Works Deep Sleep Bath Soak

£23.85 £24.00 (1% off)

This Works have got a whole range of products designed to help you get a better night sleep, and we particularly love this relaxing bath soak. The aroma of lavender and chamomile helps you unwind as the nourishing formula moisturises your skin.

Tisserand Aromatherapy Sleep Better Pulse Point Roller Ball 10ml

Tisserand Aromatherapy Sleep Better Pulse Point Roller Ball


Aromatherapy is a lovely way to destress after a long day and help you get the sleep your skin (and the rest of you) needs. Apply this oil blend to your pulse points to get a soporific dose of 100% natural lavender, sandalwood and jasmine.

5. Keep your skincare routine simple

When your skin barrier is broken, introducing a new product or an excessive number of steps into your skin care routine is an absolute no-go. Keep things simple with an all-natural skin care routine or products that are microbiome friendly and focus on moisturising.

Not sure what to look out for when buying barrier-repairing products? We recommend shopping for skin care essentials that are rich in fatty acids, ceramides, niacinamide, aloe vera, calendula and/or centella asiatica.

Or check out some of our favourite microbiome-friendly products below:

Zelens Microbiota P3 Balancing Mist 50ml

Zelens Microbiota P3 Balancing Mist

£51.33 £52.00 (2% off)

This prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic face mist is enriched with peptides and fermented botanicals to protect your skin's microbiome to help it looked healthy, refreshed and radiant. You can use it day, night and any time in between, under or over makeup. One for the travel bag for sure!

REN Evercalm Barrier Support Elixir 30ml

REN Evercalm Barrier Support Elixir

£35.20 £44.00 (20% off)

Clinically proven to help strengthen your skin barrier in just two weeks, this non-greasy oil combats dryness, irritation and sensitivity as it nourishes your skin with col-pressed Inca Inchi oil, camellia japonica seed oil, meadowfoam seed oil and more. It just makes your skin feel so soft and smooth, you'll fall in love in no time flat.

Trilogy Microbiome Complexion Renew Serum 30ml

Trilogy Microbiome Complexion Renew Serum

£33.50 £34.47 (3% off)

This serum builds back your skin's resilience and vibrancy with advanced postbiotic technology. It contains hyaluronic acid for plumping up your skin, as well as Trilogy's patented microbial complex, white tea and goji extract. You'll be left with healthy, soothed and protected skin and a stronger skin barrier.

Antipodes Avocado Pear Nourishing Night Cream

Antipodes Avocado Pear Nourishing Night Cream

£28.00 £42.00 (34% off)

In addition to the free-radical fighting calendula oil we mentioned earlier, this night cream contains avocado oil, which promotes collagen production, and anti-bacterial and anti-acne manuka honey. Your skin barrier will thank you.

Caudalie Vinosource-Hydra Moisturising Mask 75ml

Caudalie Vinosource-Hydra Moisturising Mask

£16.19 £26.95 (40% off)

This face mask uses a lovely herb we mentioned earlier - centella asiatica - to protect the skin from free radical damage with antioxidants, hydrate with its amino acid content and strengthen your skin barrier. There's also organic grape water to moisturise the skin with prebiotics and polyphenols from grape seeds for extra dose of antioxidants.

Looking for more skin-soothing skin care remedies? Check out our blog on The Best Face Masks For Sensitive Skin!

And of course, don't forget to wear SPF every day for additional protection. Read our edit on The Best Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin to keep your skin healthy.

Ellie Child

Written by Ellie Child

With five years’ experience under her belt, Ellie has worked alongside a range of highly regarded makeup artists, giving her a real insight into what consumers should be spending their money on.

Gabriella is a junior content writer with a background in creative writing, content marketing and journalism. She’s passionate about all things makeup and skincare, but especially vegan and cruelty-free beauty that is effective and inexpensive.

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